Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Souviens-toi que tu es poussière

Having made it out of the office at a reasonable hour for once, I managed to attend the 7pm Mass at S Pierre de Chaillot in Paris this evening.  It is a splendid 1930s building, with an interesting parish history.  If your French is up to it, you can read about the church and about Chaillot, one of the villages that were subsumed into Paris as it grew, on the parish website. 

We mentioned on this blog yesterday that the Celebrant of the Mass discussed in that post, Monsignor Guy Thomazeau, had been a parish priest of St Pierre de Chaillot in the 1980s, before being elevated to the episcopacy.  Another famous churchman with a connection to St Pierre de Chaillot was Pope John XXIII, who as Monsignor Roncalli was Apostolic Nuncio to France from 1944 to 1953.  The Paris Nunciature is situated in the parish of St Pierre de Chaillot, and the future Pope was a frequent visitor to this great building.  The parish's other claim to fame is that it was in its predecessor building that the Requiem Mass for Marcel Proust was held in 1922. 

Here you can see the church pictured earlier this evening, and then a picture taken by a much more able photographer, found on the internet.

Arriving tonight around ten minutes before Mass began, the church seemed respectably busy but far from full, as the photo below, taken from my vantage point relatively near the front, makes clear.  As the clock struck seven, people appeared as if from nowhere and took their places : there were probably 200-300 in church.  Having heard reports from an Anglican friend of the Marylebone Group who attended the 1230 Mass at St James's today that there were around 300 in attendance there, almost all of whom arrived in the five minutes before Mass started, I should not have been surprised.

The architecture of the building is said to be a typical 1930s rendering of Byzantine influences : perhaps so, architecture is not my field, but I must confess that it always reminds me of Armenia (see this earlier blogpost), especially the tall bell tower that can be seen from various nearby parts of Paris.  Sadly, the photo above does not show my favourite part of the internal architecture, the Byzantine-style frescoes that adorn the walls.  Around the view you can see above is a massive arch, withOur Lord above, surrounded by various saints, then below on the left hand side early popes and the Council of Nicaea, and below on the right hand side Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius X and Pope Benedict XV alongside the Vatican Council (or, as we might now say, Vatican I).

The music was the very typical French style chant that one expects to hear, accompanied on the fine chamber organ (rescued from St Eustache) rather than on the very fine grandes orgues built in 1994, blessed by Cardinal Lustiger himself and financed by the City of Paris. 

The Homily was very good.  It started by reminding us that the Lenten regime we are asked to follow now is very different from and much lighter than the one that existed until the second half of the twentieth century.  It is perhaps physically less challenging, but this does not mean that we should not take Lent seriously: we should not let Lent pass by without any acknowledgement.

Instead of then moving on to the usual "give up something" or "take up something" approach, Fr Marc Guelfucci took a broader line of attack.  We must do something that "costs us" in Lent.  If giving up something, it must be something we will miss.  If taking up something, it must be something that will impact us.  It is about sacrifice, which comes from sacer (or sacrum) facere, being to make something holy, to make something special, to set something apart.  He made a special appeal for people to consider whether they might give more to the poor this Lent, something that he felt, in this economic environment, was more needed than ever, and was more sure to impact upon us than ever.  He also urged us not to look for excuses, not to decide against giving those ten euros to charity because we worry that it might spend too much on administration, or because we're not sure about every little thing they do : if we make the sacrifice with the best of intentions, then we have done what we can.

One thing that struck me was noticing a phenomenon that others mention having seen.  Those who were keener on bowing, kneeling, crossing themselves - I suppose we can steal Betjeman's phrase all the inessentials of the Faith - were under 40.  As I am - just - still the right side of 40, I was more than happy to follow the approach of the youth. 

We were all ashed, and indeed communicated, very quickly and efficiently.  The ashing was copious, but when I eventually got to see it in a mirror, I cannot say that it looked much like a cross, it was more of a black daub.  Still, I can take comfort from the Gospel reading of the day, in that I avoided making an ostentatious, pharisaic display: I simply looked as if I had had a nasty accident. 

One last photo, proving that not all of Paris is taking on a more sober appearance for Lent.  Here is a picture of the Eiffel Tower, as seen en route from S Pierre back to my flat.

To conclude, after all that talk of France, we must have a piece of very English Lenten choral music.  Here is William Byrd's setting of the Matins responsory for the first Sunday in Lent, Emendemus in Melius.

Let us amend for the better in those things in which we have sinned through ignorance;
lest suddenly overtaken by the day of death,
we seek space for repentance, and are not able to find it.
Hearken, O Lord, and have mercy:
for we have sinned against thee.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
and for the honour of thy name deliver us.

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